Auburn’s Sisters of Mercy vigorously deny ex-worker’s mercy killing allegations

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn’s Sisters of Mercy have gone on the offensive to deny claims in a lawsuit that alleges at least one mercy killing at the Sacramento Street convent and possibly six others. Sister Michelle Gorman, an Auburn member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, West Midwest Community’s Auburn leadership, said the suit is completely without merit and mercy killing would be a sin. “Euthanasia or mercy killing is considered a grave sin by the Catholic Church and a crime by the State of California,” Gorman said. “Nowhere in our faith or in our ministry could such a practice be tolerated or carried out.” Jeanne Reaume, a former Sisters of Mercy convent employee, claims in court documents filed in Placer County that Sister Elaine Stahl performed a mercy killing in 2005 on a 68-year-old nun using morphine obtained from a locker at the convent. Also in the suit, Reaume claims six of the Sisters of Mercy’s infirmary patients died last year “upon information and belief, some of whom were not previously believed to have been terminal.” The Sisters of Mercy held a news conference Friday at the convent to categorically deny the allegations in Reaume’s suit, describing them as “reckless” and “outrageous.” The allegations are part of Reaume’s complaint against the convent that claims “whistleblower status” for retaliation and termination breaches under the state Labor Code. Reaume’s complaint states she suffered harassment and intimidation before her employment was terminated March 19. Sisters of Mercy spokeswoman Carla Hass said at the news conference that Reaume’s job duties were consolidated, with the work now taking place in the Bay Area. “We want to stress that law-enforcement thoroughly investigated all the fabricated claims,” Hass said. “The Sisters of Mercy felt it would be best to set the record straight because a public document has been filed and the sisters are quite bothered by the allegations in the document.” Capt. John Ruffcorn, of the Auburn Police Department, said Friday that an investigation took place in December and January, assisted by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. They looked into both prescription drug mishandling and mercy killing allegations by Reaume. The DEA found the drug dispensing process flawless at the convent medication procedures well above their standards, Ruffcorn said. Ruffcorn said that Reaume told police that she had no first-hand accounts of wrongdoing but had only heard allegations from nurses. In the account filed by Sacramento law firm Beyer, Pongratz & Rosen, Stahl visited the facility with a group of other nuns “to purportedly comfort sick nuns in the infirmary.” “While visiting one of the sick nuns, Sister Elaine burst from the room and forcibly accessed the infirmary’s medicine locker over protests of Sally Begley,” the suit states. Stahl took morphine from the locker into a sick sister’s noon and locked herself in with other visiting nuns, the filing says. “Sisters of Mercy staff pounded the door and attempted to gain access but were denied,” Reaume claims in the court document. “Singing could be heard from the nuns in the room. When the door was opened, the sick nun was dead.” Begley quit working for Sisters of Mercy in protest over the incident, the suit alleges. The sisters who allegedly “weren’t expected to die” last year ranged in age from 75 to 100, Hass said. All died of natural causes and under a doctor’s care, with Sisters of Mercy or family members in attendance, she said. One of the sisters at the retirement center who died was 83-year-old Sister Rita Saucier. Her niece, Anita Saucier of Stockton, provided a written statement she was with her aunt when she died surrounded by family members and 15 nuns and staff. “I only hope that at the end of my life, I will be as well taken care of as my aunt was by the Sisters of Mercy,” Saucier said. Hass said that the sister who died in 2005 was administered morphine on the day in question but a small amount – and didn’t die on that day but several days later of natural causes. “Needless to say, we fully intend to defend this lawsuit and protect the reputation we’ve built and maintained in this community for over 150 years,” Hass said. Ruffcorn said the investigation was closed in January and no new allegations have come forward since then to change that.